Our small town , is really only a suburb of the city that is 8 miles away. We have no town centre, just a retail park with a supermarket, and DIY store, similar to what you would see in an out-of-town retail environment. We have 2 primary schools – a third one due in a couple of years, and a secondary school, with attached community centre. It isn’t the most dynamic of places on the surface, but it is home.
Lack of support for additional needs families has long been a bug bare of mine, so when the council were consulting on needs a few years back, it was a very exciting time. What grew out of this was a group of parents, all with kids with additional learning needs, who would meet up. The group, Safe Space – as it later became, has been an amazing asset to our family and many others in the area. The school had always hidden behind the data protection act – and I do understand that, with not putting parents in touch with others that could support each other – my cynical side says they just didn’t want us to unite and demand things en mass! The group has parent meetings once a month, where we can sit with a coffee, and talk about success, and problems we have had. Sharing is a great way of learning, as the chances are that if it is a problem you are having there will be another parent there who is either going through the same thing, or has done, and can offer advice. Sometimes though it is enough to sit there and moan about the failings of the schools, or the system, as the release gives you the sense of togetherness with people who really do understand. During school holidays, the group meet with our kids for soft play and bouncy castle. For the kids its great to see people they know from school to keep some form of normality to the abstract nature of school breaks. There are social evenings, where those that can get baby sitters, go out, something as simple as an hour in the pub can make the difference to ones sanity. Recently an after school club was started once a week for the kids. Various arts and crafts, and activities are laid on for the children – unfortunately this is something mine aren’t interested in so we don’t go to this.
Recently, the local council were awarding grants to various different organisations to fund activities. The ladies who do all the organising behind the club, put together a proposal to gain funding for some music therapy sessions, and the council were happy to give the award.
Music therapy is something I have heard of, but never experienced, and to be honest, I had no idea what it would involve. It was therefore very difficult to sell the idea to the boys, as I wasn’t able to explain to them what we would be doing. They agreed to go on the understanding that if it wasn’t fun I wouldn’t make them go again! I thought that was a fair deal, as while I will encourage them to try new things, I would never push them into doing something they weren’t enjoying.
Last week the classes started. They were at the community centre, just a short walk from the boys school. The whole time going up, M was mumbling to himself and basically, making up his mind he wasn’t going to enjoy it. D was just moaning about the walk! There were 8 children, I believe, and it was chaos. Nobody knew what was going on. The teacher was patience itself, but even she was looking a little exasperated by the end of the session. The kids got to sing, clap, play various percussion instruments, and best of all get to take turns controlling the group by having to shout start and stop for their playing. The power of that activity was one M particularly enjoyed, and I think at that point, he forgot he wanted to hate it! On the walk home M admitted how much fun he had and asked if it would be every week – I think this said a lot considering his mood just an hour earlier. D went into total meltdown. It became quite a long dangerous walk – although its only 15 minutes, as he screamed at how much he hated me, and tried to run off. I think it was just total sensory overload for him, and he reacted the only way he knew how which was to shut down to the world while he processed everything. By bedtime, he was telling me that when I had said it was music, he had expected to play “proper” instruments, but it had been fun, and he wanted to go again. Result!
During the week, there was a message about the sessions on the groups Facebook page, saying it had to be more organised for the kids to get more out of it. Instructions were given as to how the room needed to be set up, and cleared of all distractions – information that may have been useful before the first session, but nobody knew.
Yesterday was the second session, and I decided that despite it only being a short walk, I would take the car, just incase D had overload problems again afterwards. A couple of other Mums were already there, and clearing the room, which to my surprise, M joined in helping – he refuses to put toys away at home! The chairs were put in a circle, to restrict the area the kids were in, and we were off. The children seemed far more at ease with the lovely leader, and listened much better. The smiles on their faces said it all, as they shouted out their names during the hello song, and randomly got to bang the tambourine as it got thrust in their direction.
When we got home both boys said they were looking forward to next week, as this had been so much better organised than last – you can’t beat an autistic brain for stating the obvious!
The driving forces behind the group are wonderful individuals who while living their own situations with their kids have gone out of their way to make life for all of us so much better. Parents are the best advocates for their children, but having likeminded parents to lean on and support you make life just that little bit easier, because that feeling of being alone with nobody understanding is a horrible thing.